February 21st, 2011
The below is born from an IndieInk Writing Challenge issued to me by my challenger, Becky.
Every week, as part of IndieInk’s “game,” participants will be randomly challenged by their peers with a writing prompt. Becky’s prompt for me this week was:
“They say there’s a first time for everything. Write about something that offers more than one first time.”
(Note for my PROMPTuesdayers: PROMPTuesday will show up here on Wednesday.)
I watched my mom die. Held her ice hands, heard her gasps, stroked her head, told her to go. I stood at her bedside for several long minutes afterward and finally, convinced there was no more, turned to tell her brothers and sisters, who slept in rooms just down the hall from where my mom no longer existed. It was November 10, 1997. 4AM.
Moments like that are indelible. Etched forever whether you like it or not. For all your days, you’ll see it. The gray skin, red toenails on white feet, parchment eyes, blue nightgown. You tell yourself it’s all right, you want these final images. Still, in your quiet moments you wish them away. Maybe if I had a voice to go with them, a last goodbye in her own words, something my spirit remembers and not my head. But we didn’t talk in those diminishing days. I’d lost her to the morphine and the body closing down a week before she passed.
She was my mom.
I watched her die.
The last thing I remember her saying as we looked out the bay window is how she wanted to be a bird, free to circle above it all; how she’d come to visit me, after it was all done.
At my wedding four years later, one lone bird looped above me as I walked down the aisle. I didn’t see it. Everyone else did. I wanted to cry; I wanted my bird.
I’d met Rebecca through ElderHelp in 2002, about a year after I married. She was 87, a painter, a writer, a mosaic of soul and grace. We’d visit and talk every Sunday. I was all she had; her son died in 1940 of pneumonia; she became a mom to me.
She told me all her stories. Of a little baby boy who she never came to know, of four husbands, of sickness and redemption through Christian Science. She read to me, and asked me to share my stories — the ones I’d never heard myself say out loud. I was someone else when I was with her — my one true self.
I counted six years with her, filled with acceptance, gentle nudging, mutual silence, simple understanding. Then one October morning, I went to visit and learned she had broken her ankle and was in the hospital. Of course she tried to call me, but never left a message. Too many lost days after that silent voice mail, I ran to the medical center and stayed with her. It was just a broken ankle, but still.
But still. Those things happen, and turn into other things. Pneumonia, convalescence, infection, more convalescence. A month later, I sat at the foot of her hospital bed. I knew what was coming. I’d been there before.
I begged her see. I begged. Let me stay, I pleaded. Let me stay. I still have you for today. I hear your voice. Talk to me. Let me stay.
But she sent me out of the room. I’m enduring, she told me. Let me endure.
I left as she wished. Even though I knew it was coming.
Not twelve hours later, I returned. Rebecca had died seconds before. I lay my head on her chest. I wanted to hear something, anything. Let me stay.
I looked at the clock on the wall in front of us. I knew what was coming, what I’d see.
November 10. 4AM.
I had my bird.